From Incan ruins to the wildlife-rich Ballestas Islands, the 15-day version of this itinerary shows you the many sides of Peru. Experience metropolitan Lima, the incredible Nazca lines, and the Incan capital of Cusco. Walk a section of the Inca Trail, followed by a day at Machu Picchu. And make your way to Puerto Maldonado, where you'll spend three days viewing wildlife on jungle excursions while enjoying a comfortable stay at an eco-lodge.

Highlights

  • Tour the Sacred Valley and spend a day at Machu Picchu
  • Explore the rock formations and wildlife of the Ballestas Islands
  • See the incredible Nazca Lines from a plane
  • Visit the Maras salt flats and the terraced amphitheaters of Moray
  • Spot wildlife on jungle excursions from your Amazon eco-lodge

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrival in Lima Lima
Day 2 Lima City & Food Tour Lima
Day 3 Paracas National Reserve Tour: Lima - Paracas Paracas
Day 4 Ballestas Islands & Nazca Lines Tour Paracas
Day 5 Free Day in Lima Lima
Day 6 Arrival in Cusco, Exploring the City Cusco
Day 7 Cusco City Tour Cusco
Day 8 Sacred Valley Tour: Cusco - Chinchero - Ollantaytambo Ollantaytambo
Day 9 Short Inca Trail to Machu Picchu: Ollantaytambo - Aguas Calientes Aguas Calientes
Day 10 Machu Picchu Excursion: Aguas Calientes & Machu Picchu Aguas Calientes
Day 11 Exploring Cusco: San Blas & San Pedro  Cusco
Day 12 Into the Amazon: Puerto Maldonado to Refugio Amazonas Lodge Puerto Maldonado
Day 13 Jungle Excursions - Tres Chimbadas, Parrot Clay Lick, Botany Tour Puerto Maldonado
Day 14 Jungle Excursions - Farm, Dugout Canoe Tour, Fitzcarrald Puerto Maldonado
Day 15 Depart from Puerto Maldonado & Lima  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrival in Lima

Lima's Plaza Mayor
Lima's Plaza Mayor

Welcome to Lima, Peru's largest city and central metropolitan hub, and home to one-third of the country's population. Located at the site of a pre-Columbian indigenous Ychsma settlement, which was conquered by the Inca empire in the 15th century and later by the Spanish conquistadores, Lima has a fascinating history and a diverse mix of cultures. Amerindian, European, Afro-Peruvian, and Asian—especially Chinese and Japanese—influences make Lima a dynamic and exciting city to explore. 

Lima's breezy location on the Pacific Ocean and mild desert climate make it the perfect city for exploring on foot. Head downtown to mingle with locals, stretch your legs, and grab a bite to eat in one of the many award-winning restaurants. 

Suggested activities include: 

  • Explore the historic center of Lima, a UNESCO World Heritage Site packed with fascinating Spanish architecture. Start with a scenic tour of the colonial downtown, which emanates from the main square. Stroll over to the 16th-century Cathedral, which took 80 years to construct and was built in the grandiose style of the Spanish Empire. 
  • Visit the Casa Aliaga, a colonial mansion granted by chief conquistador Francisco Pizarro to Jerónimo de Aliaga, one of his captains, in 1535. This is the only house from that era that still belongs to the same family. 
  • Stroll around the Pueblo Libre district to the privately owned Larco Museum of pre-Columbian art, housed in a beautifully restored viceregal mansion built over a 7th-century pre-Columbian pyramid. The museum boasts a vast pre-Colonial collection of gold and silver artifacts, as well as pieces of erotic art.
  • In the evening, head to the eclectic "Love Park" in the upscale coastal district of Miraflores, where you can admire a huge kissing statue and beautiful mosaic walls.  The park is built on the cliffs of Chorrillos and is a perfect place to enjoy a spectacular sunset over the Pacific. 
  • Enjoy a nightcap at an open-air cafe or restaurant in the diverse Miraflores neighborhood.

Day 2: Lima City & Food Tour

Peruvian ceviche
Peruvian ceviche

Spend the day discovering Lima through its food. With a vibrant combination of Indigenous American, African, Asian, and European culinary influences, Lima is one of the world's most impressive gastronomic and cultural centers. 

Start the day early in Lima's Historical center to visit a local mercacado—a fresh food market—to taste the local produce and sample spices, fruits, and various baked bread. Taste different types of Piscos—a high proof brandy produced locally in the wine-making regions of Peru and Chile. Attend a cooking class and learn how to make ceviche, a fresh seafood dish marinated with salt and lime juice, and the traditional pisco sour—a Peruvian classic.  

Stop for lunch at one of Lima's top restaurants and enjoy a delicious meal on a patio overlooking the Pacific ocean. Stroll to the bohemian district of Barranco—a popular oceanside neighborhood for artists, tourists, and locals alike—for a relaxed afternoon drinking coffee and sampling Peruvian desserts.

Day 3: Paracas National Reserve Tour

Cathedral rock formation in Paracas National Reserve
Cathedral rock formation in Paracas National Reserve

This morning you will depart from your hotel in Lima to travel to Paracas. Upon arrival to Paracas, you will explore the Paracas National Reserve. The tour begins with a visit to the reserve’s interpretation center. Here you will learn about the history and culture of the reserve.

You’ll stop at the turritellas, which are fossilized remains of sea snails that are now embedded into the ground. This whole area was once underwater, and the turritellas are a good reminder of this. The tour also visits The Cathedral. This million-year-old rock formation is set just off the coast but was unfortunately destroyed by an earthquake in 2007. The base of the formation, however, can still be seen.

You’ll explore the beautiful beaches of Playa Lagunilla, Red, and Yumaque. These beaches are very picturesque and are a good place to watch the waves roll in. After the tour, you will be transferred back to your hotel in Paracas.

Day 4: Ballestas Islands & Nazca Lines Tour

The charismatic Humboldt penguin
The charismatic Humboldt penguin

This morning you will depart from your hotel in Paracas and board a boat for your journey to the nearby Ballestas Islands, an important sanctuary for marine life and made possible by the Humboldt Current. On the way to the islands, you’ll also see the Candelabra, a nearly 595-foot (181-meter) long, candlestick-shaped symbol etched into the side of a hill that can be seen from the sea.

During the tour, you can get up close and personal with marine birds and sea lions. Some of the unique bird species you might see include the Humboldt Penguin and the Peruvian Booby which only live along the Humboldt Current, as well as the Guanay Cormorant and the Red-legged Cormorant. Depending on the season, you’ll see sea lions playing with their young or simply frolicking on the rocks. 

After the boat excursion, you will then get a chance to explore the Nazca Lines. You’ll next head to the Pisco airport, located about 30 minutes by car from your hotel. Here you’ll take off on an exciting flight over the world-famous Nazca Lines. During your hour-long flight, you’ll see famous “etchings” made by removing dark stones that then reveal the lighter color soil below, such as the condor, the hummingbird, and the monkey—some up to 600 feet in size.

After your Nazca Lines excursion, you'll return to your hotel in Paracas.

Day 5: Free Day in Lima

The romantic neighborhood of Miraflores at sunset
The romantic neighborhood of Miraflores at sunset

Today you will transfer from your hotel in Paracas back to Lima. Upon arrival, take the day to explore the city. Lima's breezy location on the Pacific Ocean and mild desert climate make it the perfect city for exploring on foot. Head downtown to mingle with locals, stretch your legs, and grab a bite to eat in one of the many award-winning restaurants. 

Suggested activities include: 

  • Explore the historic center of Lima, a UNESCO World Heritage Site packed with fascinating Spanish architecture. Start with a scenic tour of the colonial downtown, which emanates from the main square. Stroll over to the 16th-century Cathedral, which took 80 years to construct and was built in the grandiose style of the Spanish Empire. 
  • Visit the Casa Aliaga, a colonial mansion granted by chief conquistador Francisco Pizarro to Jerónimo de Aliaga, one of his captains, in 1535. This is the only house from that era that still belongs to the same family. 
  • Stroll around the Pueblo Libre district to the privately owned Larco Museum of pre-Columbian art, housed in a beautifully restored viceregal mansion built over a 7th-century pre-Columbian pyramid. The museum boasts a vast pre-Colonial collection of gold and silver artifacts, as well as pieces of erotic art.
  • In the evening, head to the eclectic "Love Park" in the upscale coastal district of Miraflores, where you can admire a huge kissing statue and beautiful mosaic walls.  The park is built on the cliffs of Chorrillos and is a perfect place to enjoy a spectacular sunset over the Pacific. 
  • Enjoy a nightcap at an open-air cafe or restaurant in the diverse Miraflores neighborhood. 

Day 6: Arrival in Cusco

An aerial view of Cusco and surrounding hills
An aerial view of Cusco and surrounding hills

Head to the Lima airport for your transfer flight to Cusco. After settling in, explore the former capital of the Inca empire, which reigned from the 13th to 16th centuries after conquering the Killke settlement on the same location.   

Since Cusco was designed by the Incas as a city for walking, start your exploration of the narrow stone alleyways on foot. Take a walk through the plaza — if the weather is beautiful, it's a perfect place to sit on a balcony and have a cup of coca tea while adjusting to the elevation. 

Suggested activities include: 

  • See the Cathedral, the most imposing monument in the central Plaza de Armas and a repository for Cusco's colonial art. Its construction lasted for almost 100 years, beginning in 1560 and ending in 1654. 
  • Discover the elaborate Puca Pucara ruins—an architectural complex of alleged military use with multiple plazas, baths, aqueducts, walls, and towers. It is believed that the entourage of the Incan emperor used it while he stayed at Tambomachay, the elaborate estate and baths nearby. 
  • Explore San Blas, an old bohemian quarter famous for its picturesque white walls, blue doors, and creative artisan community. 
  • Eat lunch at a local Peruvian restaurant and sample local flavors and cooking techniques—crackling pork, pickled vegetables, seasonal flavors, bread baked in earthen ovens, roasted vegetables, and sweet donuts make for a delicious and filling meal. 

Day 7: Cusco City Tour

View of Cusco's Plaza de Armas
View of Cusco's Plaza de Armas

Today's tour will begin at the local San Pedro Market. The locals shop at this market every day in order to stock up on produce and groceries making this market experience as authentic as Peru gets. The market is located indoors and includes many different food stalls and vendors. Be sure to try their endless selection of fresh fruit smoothies, which are the perfect refreshing treat.

From the market, you will head to the most important temple of the Inca Empire, the Sun Temple, known as Qoricancha. Here, you can observe detailed and intact architecture, and within the temple, you will see smaller temples dedicated to the moon, rainbow, stars, lightning, and thunder, among others.

From Qoricancha, you will walk to an important religious site called Sacsayhuaman, which features immense stones. Although the site was religious, the Spanish considered it a military fortress because of its location and the way it was built. After your tour, head back to your hotel for some rest. 

Day 8: Sacred Valley Tour

Maras Salt Flats
Maras Salt Flats

This morning you will depart from your hotel in Cusco and travel to the town of Chinchero, which the Inca believed to be the birthplace of the rainbow. In this typical Andean village you can see extensive Inca terracing and some pretty colonial-era churches. The town is also known for its weaving studios – you'll have a chance to see the weavers producing handmade products.

From Chinchero you'll continue to Moray, an incredible complex of stone amphitheaters developed by the Inca. While the exact reason for the construction of this site remains unknown, historians believe the Inca constructed in order to experiment with crop production in different micro-climates.  

From Moray, you will walk through farmlands (or take a bus if you prefer) to Salineras, an incredible patchwork of stone pools and paths developed by the Inca as a means to harvest salt. Spend the night in Ollantaytambo, a historic town in the Sacred Valley, set on the Urubamba River, overlooked by massive stone fortresses. You'll have a chance to explore this charming village, its cobbled streets, and pretty central plazas.

Day 9: Short Inca Trail to Machu Picchu

The Inca ruins of Winay Wayna along the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu
The Inca ruins of Winay Wayna along the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu

Early in the morning, we will take the train from Ollantaytambo to Km 104 where the short Inca Trail starts. By train, we see how the valley turns into a canyon and the scenery begins to alter as the cloud forests appear on our approach to Machu Picchu. We will disembark the train at Km 104 and start the hike along a challenging uphill path. 

Start the trek to your first archeological site—Chachabamba. This beautiful site is very well preserved thanks to its location in the valley and was likely used for religious purposes and as a gatekeeping point for this entrance to Machu Picchu. 

From here ascend for 3 hours to the ruins of Wiñay Wayna (2732 m / 8964 ft), an ancient rest area for travelers on the Inca trail. Here, we'll stop to enjoy our delicious boxed lunch, with superb views of the massive green mountains and native orchids.

The trail then becomes gentler and continues through the semi-tropical cloud forest to Intipunku (Sun Gate) where you'll enjoy your first panoramic views of Machu Picchu. Descend half an hour to the citadel for a short break and an opportunity for photos.

We won't be exploring the ruins today, as it will be getting dark. After passing through the Sun Gate, we'll cross the site to take the bus down to Aguas Calientes, where you'll check into our hotel to rest and relax in anticipation of a full-day visit to Machu Picchu tomorrow.

Maximum Altitude: 2732 m / 8964 ft                     
Minimum Altitude: 2088 m / 6850 ft
Distance Travelled: 10.79 km / 6.67 ml (to Inti Punku)  
Approximate Walking Time: 7 hours

Day 10: Machu Picchu Excursion

Agricultural terraces surrounding the ruins
Agricultural terraces surrounding the ruins

Get an early start to beat the crowds and get the best views of the ancient ruins. From Aguas Calientes, it's an easy 25-minute bus ride up to the Machu Picchu ruins. 

This 15th-century Inca citadel is located at 7,970 ft (2,430 m) and is a masterpiece of engineering that served as a sanctuary and retreat for the Incan Emperor Pachacutec and his royal court. Machu Picchu, which means "Old Mountain," is considered a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and is one of the new Seven Wonders of the World. 

Built as a seasonal residence for the Inca family, Machu Picchu was rarely home to more than 800 people, and during the royals' absence, a mere 100 servants would remain at the site to maintain the grounds. Machu Picchu was abandoned 100 years after construction due to the Spanish conquest and remained largely hidden to the outside world until the early 20th century. 

Your guide will lead you around the site and explain the different buildings and curious corners of the building complex. Approximately one-third of the site has been reconstructed into its original structure, giving visitors a sense for the grandeur and artistry of the original citadel.

After the tour, take the bus back to Aguas Calientes and relax in the hot springs.

Day 11: Exploring Cusco: San Blas & San Pedro

Picturesque San Blas
Picturesque San Blas

Today is a free day in Cusco. Start by exploring San Blas, an old bohemian quarter famous for its picturesque white walls, blue doors, and creative artisan community. 

For lunch, head to the legendary Mercado Central de San Pedro, a large and diverse market famous for its mouth-watering juices, home-style meals, medicinal herb stalls, and rows of various meats, loaves of bread, vegetables, and other necessities.


Day 12: Puerto Maldonado to Refugio Amazonas Lodge

This morning you will transfer from your hotel to the Cusco airport for your flight to Puerto Maldonado.

Upon arrival at the Puerto Maldonado Airport, an agent will meet you and drive you to the local office for luggage storage. Here, all of your extra luggage will be locked away in a secure safe for more convenient boat travel. After a quick walk through the garden for a preview of rainforest plants, it’s time to pack your necessities and travel into the Amazon.

Depart from the Tambopata port on a two and a half hour boat ride, and pass through the community of Infierno Reserve. Eat a packed lunch en route, and watch as the sunlight disappears behind the dense rainforest trees. The boat will take you to your home base for the next few days, the Refugio Amazonas Lodge.

The manager will welcome you before giving you an important briefing regarding navigation and security. Then, kick back and relax for the rest of your night after a day of traveling. If you'd prefer to get in a little adventure, you can go on a night boat trip to search for caymans. From the safety of the boat, shine your headlights and flashlights onto the riverbanks to spot their red eyes reflecting in the light.

Day 13: Jungle Excursions - Tres Chimbadas, Parrot Clay Lick, Botany Tour

A brightly-colored Amazonian butterfly
A brightly-colored Amazonian butterfly

Today you will explore the lush rainforest around you in a series of short guided adventure treks. Start by heading to Tres Chimbadas, located 30 minutes by boat from the lodge. Explore the lake to search for the resident family of nine giant river otters and other local wildlife, such as cayman, hoatzin, and colorful tropical birds. This tour is best done in the early morning, as otters are most active from dawn to 8 or 9 AM. 

After, walk the short 20 minutes from the lodge to the Parrot Clay Lick. Take a comfortable seat behind a secluded blind and watch hundreds of vibrant parrots and parakeets descend onto the river bank to eat the mineral-rich clay. Brightly-colored species like the Yellow-headed Amazon, Blue-headed Parrot, and Dusky Headed Parakeet love to visit this location, and late morning is an ideal time to spot them. 

Take a break for lunch, then head 20 minutes downriver to a curated ethnobotany trail tour. Designed by the staff of Centro Ñape, a communal organization which derives natural medicines from plants found in the rainforest, this educational trail is designed to explain the uses of local Amazonian plants. 

After dinner, you have the option to go for a relaxing night hike during a time when most mammals are active. Listen to the chorus of from and amphibian calls, and bring a flashlight to try and spot the small animals as they camouflage in the vegetation.

Day 14: Jungle Excursions - Farm, Dugout Canoe Tour, Fitzcarrald

A relaxing sunset in the Amazon
A relaxing sunset in the Amazon

After a beautiful sunrise and an early breakfast, visit a local farm to learn local cultivation techniques and sample some of the produce.  Stop at the nearby botanical garden and discover the immense variety of medicinal plants used by the indigenous people of the Amazon. 

In the afternoon,  head back to the lodge to enjoy lunch. Afterward, you will be treated to a trip in a dugout canoe to see some more local wildlife. Photographers and naturalists will love spotting Amazonian species around the water, so don't forget your camera. Relax and enjoy the beautiful scenery while observing tropical birds, as well as an array of flycatchers and Gray-necked Wood-Rails.

On the way back, disembark at the remains of the Fitzcarrald steamboat, where you'll learn about its history and how it became part of the award-winning film "Fitzcarraldo."

Day 15: Depart from Puerto Maldonado & Lima

Enjoy your last breakfast at the lodge before heading back to the port in Puerto Maldonado. You will be transferred back to the local airport for your connecting flight back to Lima. From Lima, catch your flight home. 

For a similar trip with a shorter timeline, check out the 10-day version of this itinerary

Deborah
Written by Deborah Hayman, updated Mar 18, 2019